Saturday, September 25, 2010

Look Out: It is a Monster.

Last spring, the CW’s Supernatural closed off its fifth season with a move that really rubbed me the wrong way. Originally designed to be a capstone for the series, the episode was changed at the last minute to make way for a sixth season; tacking a couple of seconds worth of footage onto the very end that took the (in my opinion) best ending of a genre show since Babylon 5 finished up in 1998 and turned it into a cheap, cliffhanger twist-ending that only served to set up an unplanned continuation by manufacturing some unsatisfying drama.

I understand that there’s always a level of creator control that gets taken away when you have a successful, long-term property like Supernatural. Even dedicated series helmsmen like Eric Kripke and J. Michael Straczynski are almost expected to lose some control over the direction of the program to the suits as time goes on…it’s just part of the industry. But where Straczynski worked inside the system and still ended Babylon 5 as he intended to and when he wanted to, Kripke has apparently just bailed with little more than a little temper-tantrum and an “England soldiers on.” And while I have to respect the man for stepping down as showrunner when he was done with what he had to say, it doesn’t change the fact that his concessions to the network allowed the ending of that last episode to become unforgivably tacky and tonight it has launched a new season that, well, it’s got a bit of an odd smell about it.

Actually, the smell isn’t that unfamiliar. It smells like season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Actually, it reeks of season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Yeah. The one with the secret military organization and the college and the terrible cyborg-monster thing at the end and the endlessly stupid charisma-sucking vortex that was Riley Finn. The one where we lost almost all sense of narrative coherence and continuity. The one that the show never recovered from.

In case it’s not clear: No. I’m not really happy about it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Supernatural is a show that has very, very rarely done me wrong. That’s an uncommon feat for a program that has gone on for as long as it has. It’s clever and inventive and cool and even when it misfires it usually does so in a way that you can enjoy. As such, I feel that it’s earned a certain amount of loyalty from me. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those people who constantly says that “the fans deserve better” when he’s confronted with something that he doesn’t like from a series that he does. I very rarely feel that the performers or writers or creators owe me anything because I choose to enjoy the program that they produce, but this is a show that I have continually enjoyed since it premiered and as such I do feel an obligation to ride out a rough patch here and there. As such, I’m not going to be writing the show off after a lousy season opener and intend to give the newly continued Supernatural a fair shake before I start trying to pretend that season five ended a few seconds sooner than it did.

But oh man, was this ever a lousy season opener.

When last we saw the Winchester brothers, Dean had finally made it out of the family business of hunting monsters and killing demons by averting the Biblical apocalypse and seeing his brother Sam sacrifice himself in the process. After a parting of ways with the show’s other characters he returns to Lisa, the one still-living woman who he could be said to have a meaningful relationship with, serving as a supporter to her and her son as her recovers from the psychological trauma of the past few years and tries to build something like a normal life for himself. And while the show is focused on that thread for the first ten minutes or so of this episode I was really kind of digging it. For the first time in the show’s run we get to see Dean as what he has always wanted to be: a functioning human being. He goes to work, spends time with his surrogate family, has a few friends, and generally works his way through a little domestic montage that intercuts with him reflecting on past events, showing how even simple, everyday actions like using a hammer or locking a door were warped into something paranoid and wretched by his old lifestyle, all while showing how he has changed and adapted…just not so much that he doesn’t still keep a Devil’s Trap painted under the doormat and a shotgun and hex bag under his bed. This bittersweet series of shots was really one of the few things that I felt was missing from the previous season’s ending. Jensen Ackles even looks more the part, sporting a comfortable extra few pounds and a more grown-up haircut that really make Dean seem like he’s been living soft for the past year.

It’s all really quite lovely and I was pleasantly surprised, even as the show takes a turn toward old, familiar territory with Dean starting to see demon signs wherever he goes and begins to come to the conclusion that he’s going to have to do something about it; dodging around the subject with Lisa until she finally confronts him about it and gives him the okay to do what he needs to do. As an episode it’s really working so far, and keeps on doing so until the critter turns out to be none other than Azazel, the yellow eyed demon who served as the big-bad in seasons one and two. This was an intriguing turn for me, because even in his brief scene he gives some small explanation for how he has returned to life, a minimal explanation certainly (he was brought back as the result of some sort of end-of-the-apocalypse cosmic reset) but one that could be more fully explored at a later time and could also serve to explain how Sam was back on earth and no longer possessed by the devil (as those familiar with the cringe-inducing final moments of season five already know him to be).

I wouldn’t have objected to this so much, not because I like the idea of recycling villains after they’re dead, and not even because Fredric Lehne is so much fun to watch as the character, but because it actually is some kind of explanation. But, alas, when Sam shows up moments later to save Dean from the demon, the episode takes a serious turn for the worse. When we come back from commercial, Dean is waking up on a cot in a mysterious house with Sam sitting over him and his reaction is…less than stellar. It isn’t bad, per-se, it’s just exactly what you’d expect. He’s very upset for a moment, and then very angry for a moment, and then they hug. It’s the standard issue Supernatural emotional payoff/resolution scene, and while that gag may have worked up until this point, well, things are a little bit different this time, aren’t they? Shouldn’t there be some further exploration of emotion? Or even some further mistrust between the two? Sam even tells Dean during their conversation that Azazel wasn’t real but rather a lethal hallucination caused by a djinn. So what does Sam have to do to prove that he’s not a hallucination? He cuts himself on the arm with a knife and drinks some (holy?) water. Nothing that requires Dean’s interaction. Nothing that a hallucinatory character capable of physical murder shouldn’t be able to do anyway. It’s a shockingly lazy scene for a show that usually takes its time and tests its characters very harshly, and is indicative of the overly rushed tone of the rest of the episode.

So, ready for the next couple of minutes? Here they are: Sam is alive and has been alive since, well, since Dean thought he died. Also alive is the brothers’ grandfather Samuel, who died back in the seventies. They don’t know why and they don’t seem to care, and you can tell this because when Dean asks them they say “We don’t know” and change the subject so they can introduce a trio of characters whose names you won’t learn this week because they aren’t going to have their names used for the rest of the episode. These guys are Sam and Dean’s cousins on their mother’s side, and they are all professional hunters who the Winchesters have never met or heard of before and who have apparently never heard of the Winchesters before either, despite the fact that every other hunter we’ve ever seen has instantly treated Sam and Dean like monster killing royalty. One of these guys is also played by Corin Nemic and is, thus, almost guaranteed to be a complete slimeball/villain. Also, Bobby knows about Sam too (though I would have loved it if Bobby’s deadpan reaction to the brother’s resurrection was simply a result of how many dead people he’s seen up and walking around over the years) and didn’t tell Dean because he thought he was being nice. Also, there are djinn around and they’re gunning for Winchester blood. Also, Sam and the gang suddenly want Dean to join up with them again and leave his new family despite the fact that a couple of minutes before they were all talking about how they didn’t tell him that Sam was alive because they wanted to be all noble and let him have his normal life. They get very upset when Dean doesn’t like this idea, which is some serious bullshit considering what absolute dicks they’re all being.

You see what I did there? How I rushed through ALL of that pretty vital exposition like it meant absolutely nothing? Good, because that’s exactly how this week’s script handles it. This is several weeks worth of plot and exposition compressed into a slipshod second and third act. It would be way too much material even before the introductory first act and the monster-of-the-week djinn fight in the fourth and fifth acts. I think it’s pretty much needless to say that this is a completely preposterous way to tell a story, much less to set up the next chapter in a long-form serial production that I’ve always admired for its willingness to take its time and fill gaps in the chronology with fun adventure stories. This is a show that built it’s mythology and plot for five years at a pace that could sometimes seem glacial and ultimately produced one of the most emotionally effecting hours of television in recent memory, so what the hell happened to that notion, huh?

This episode is, to be perfectly blunt, amateur hour. Sera Gamble, who has written some absolutely stellar episodes of the show in the past, seems lost here as writer, executive producer, and new showrunner--turning in a sloppy script that got turned into a sloppy episode that goes absolutely nowhere and satisfies on no level after the title card comes up. The concept of the djinn could have been very interesting on its own, serving as it does as a callback to the season two episode What Is and What Should Never Be with the creatures coming for revenge against the Winchesters for the djinn they killed in that episode. Unfortunately, it seems that they are ultimately only in the episode to serve as a catalyst that brings the brothers back together and so that one may be captured by Samuel and the other Campbells for their undoubtedly nefarious purposes. It just gets turned into a lazy retread of a previous monster, so that it can be lazily captured by a group of seedy seeming characters who have obvious yet unobserved ulterior motives.

Actually, the bits that I liked best were mostly Dean’s interactions with Lisa. They’re believable, and understanding and pretty solidly written and they actually feel like things that the characters care about and mean when they say them. When Dean makes his final decision to spit in the face of his old family and stick with the one that he has adopted and found peace with, I was actually quite proud of the character. That family was intended as Dean’s reward for his trials, for all of the growth that he’s seen since the show’s pilot aired in 2005. Frankly, he deserves that, if only from the viewpoint of narrative closure. If I want to look at it that way though, (and I do because I like to look at things like that as a storyteller, and that doesn’t grant us another season of television featuring the established eye-candy that brings in the teenage girls) Sam also deserves to stay trapped in the cage with Lucifer for the rest of time because that’s his fate as a martyr and tragic hero.

So, with that in mind, it sort of pains me to bring this up: If this season is to succeed from a narrative standpoint, Lisa and her son Ben need to die or go away in some other, permanent way. This isn’t because I dislike them as characters, because I have liked them ever since they were introduced back in season three as the throw-away gag that Dean might have an illegitimate son--but because they’re noncombatants in a show that has a history of treating noncombatants like canon-fodder. If they’re allowed to continue to exist, they’re doomed to become the Wesley Crusher and Dawn Summers of this generation of television, if only by the nature of the conventions of the genre. If they survive and stick around they will become an emotional albatross around Dean’s neck: the loved ones who can’t defend themselves and are thus a constant target for murder and kidnapping by all manner of villain. Even if they aren’t brought along on the road as weekly characters there will be constant reminders of their existence; tired reiterations of how Dean is doing things for his girl back home now, emotional diatribes about how hard it is for him to leave them behind, panicked drives back to fight on the home-front as Ben gets into yet another monster-related mishap. The kid has been kidnapped by demons once already: that shit’s gonna happen again.

These are the kinds of characters that are appealing to a writer though. They seem initially intruiging, like they could be a good emotional front for the show—-something to counterbalance all of the fighting and mythology-—but that’s a mentality that usually wears off pretty quickly. The characters soon become annoying. The writer feels compelled to include them so that the viewer doesn’t forget about them, and the viewer just finds them obnoxious after a while because they get in the way of the plot. It’s an angle that needs to be cleared up ASAP if the writers really intend to get Dean back on the road in the next couple of weeks. Actually, I’d like to think that the writers have a lot more than that to do if they want to get Dean back on the road, because Dean has, up until now, proven to be far from a dumb character. He may not be overly bright, but he can smell bullshit coming and he’s suspicious as well, and I’d like to think that for the sake of continuity they’re going to have to do some pretty good explaining as they develop and launch us into this season’s plot.

I’m going to call a stop on this for now, because twenty-six hundred words is more than enough to dedicate to a single hour of television. I’ll try to keep covering the rest of this season though, because I have the feeling that Supernatural fans are going to either witness a serious turnaround in the coming weeks or the beginning of a massive television train wreck. Either way, it should be worth looking at from a storytelling perspective.

 

-Sean

 

PS. : Jesus, was the music in this episode ever obnoxious. Supernatural has a history of keeping things really quiet for the most part, only dipping into the horror-movie bag of musical tricks every once in a while and relying mostly on the visuals, but sound-manufactured jump scares were all over the place in this episode and there were a couple of scenes where the score was so loud that I could barely hear the dialogue over it. Just icing on the cake, I guess.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

IN THE THEATER: Machete

Way back in the wild and heady days 2007, pop-culture princes Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino released the amazingly unsuccessful exploitation double-feature Grindhouse, and at the very head of that experience was this:

That’s amazing isn’t it? It’s big and preposterous and perfectly, stupidly fun. It set the tone for Grindhouse perfectly, and then, better, Rodriguez came to announce that he had written the whole damn thing and intended to turn it into a feature. And then, with his usual style he spent several years dragging his feet as he put together a ludicrous cast and team and then shot the whole thing over the course of a couple of weeks.

So now Machete is here. It is a real thing. And in a surprise that will shock (SHOCK!) the pants off of absolutely nobody, it is—like the film that spawned it—not particularly good.

Now, when I say that, I don’t want you to take my meaning to be that the movie is bad. It is, but in that intentional and cheesy manner of the new wave of exploitation films. Machete seems to be striving, first and foremost, to be a lot of fun…it’s full of guns and knives and explosions and bad one-liners and blood and manly men and hot women who all end up naked at some point or another. As a prime example, here’s a rundown of the first few minutes:

1: Machete kills a load of dudes. He is a Bad Cop On The Edge. YEEEEEAAAAAAHHHHH!

2: Full frontal female nudity.

3: Steven Segal is a Mexican drug kingpin who dresses like a European dictator and carries a bright red katana. Yes, this is the greatest cross-racial casting since Touch of Evil.

4: Blood and cursing and cheesy digital gore out the arse.

5: The naked woman pulls a cellular phone out of her vagina.

6: Terrible, terrible writing delivered with hilarious, scene-chewing aplomb.

7: A wonderful shooting style with an amazing sheen of artificial grit and scratches and hyper-saturated colors that you can’t look away from.

And it’s great. It’s over the top, it’s ridiculous, it looks great and it sounds great and it is JUST. SO. MUCH. FUN. And then the credits come up and they’re great too, and then the movie comes back and, well, it just never gets back to where it was…

When the credits end the film grain is gone. The color saturation remains, and it still looks spectacular, but without the grain it seems like more like a trick than an element. And just as suddenly all of the dynamic and cheesy cinematography disappears. And the bizarre, extreme gags. And the madcap way in which all of the characters just devour the friggin’ scenery. And when all of those things go, the fun kind of evaporates along with them.

And for a while the movie just slows to an absolute crawl. For the longest time, all it does is introduce characters and organizations and little flashes of story while Danny Trejo just kind of stands around looking like a meaner version of the rawhide chew your dog lost under the couch last year. Except for rare, brilliant moments, Machete is a fairly passive character until the last act, and it’s not just because there’s nothing for him to be doing—it’s because there’s just too much else going on around him. He does things, but there’s little evidence that he’s actually at the center of the story or that he’s really all that important. Hell, the whole crux of him being hired to assassinate the Senator is that he’s nobody important at all--and the movie keeps milking the idea that day laborers are nobodies for laughs for quite some time. Saying that Machete is the star of this show is like watching Syriana and afterwards claiming that it was all about Matt Damon’s character. He’s in it, but it isn’t about him.

It’s not that the story and the interplay is uninteresting; it’s this sort of coolly cartoonish false-flag/border war/drug cartel conspiracy plot. It’s not that there aren't outrageous gags and great moments. It’s not that there aren’t a half-dozen utterly fantastic characters who I would love to see movies about, because there are literally that many characters in this movie who get great setups and origin stories and are, like, perfect old-school grindhouse characters.

But that’s just the problem. There’s too much. There’s too much going on. It’s a movie that desperately calls for a simple, flashy approach and the script just does not accommodate that. It just gets bogged down in all of it’s own stuff and where it should be dreadfully entertaining it becomes…not tedious, but sort of pedestrian. Without the flashy cinematography and filters, the film looks like exactly what it is: cheaply shot on mid-range digital cameras. And without a tight, sharp script it becomes increasingly clear that Rodriguez approached this project like he seems to most of his children’s films: throw crap at the wall and keep anything that sticks.

And that’s so frustrating, because the last time Rodriguez ventured into this territory we ended up with Planet Terror, which is fun and sharply written and tightly over-directed into a brilliant play on exploitation and zombie movies. So we know that ol’ RobRod can do this kind of stuff and do it so well it’ll break you open laughing. But with Machete it’s more like Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse; Death Proof, which starts out just as strong as Machete does, and just as quickly devolves into tedious fucking about as the director plays around on set with his man-crush.

So I guess you can call me disappointed. Call me disappointed because most of this movie is boring and unfunny. Call me disappointed for not being able to forgive that just because it has some good kills and some cheesy sex scenes set to ‘70s porn music. Call me disappointed because I walked into a movie starring Danny Trejo--a performer who I normally feel is funny and lively in his smaller bits--only to find that he sleepwalks through a starring role. Call me disappointed because when the end credits came up and they announce that “Machete Will Return” in not one, but two other movies that might possibly (read: probably not) be made someday, I was less interested in that and more in the prospect of a spin-off about Lindsay Lohan’s character.

Lindsay.

Lohan.

I don’t think I need to say more than that.

 

-Sean

Monday, August 16, 2010

Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World


Let's get this out of the way first. I don't care for hipsters. They tend to be people who like something because it's trendy and then say that they themselves are trend-setters... or they take nostalgia to an obnoxious extreme. (Like those stupid Nintendo themed shirts from Hot Topic.) They move from one cool thing to the next, turning everything good and fun into something overexposed and boring. For example, Napoleon Dynamite or Tim Burton films.

What does that have to do with this movie? Well, Scott Pilgrim is one of those films destined to be a hipster film, and yet at the same time it sort of thumbs it's nose at hipsters at the same time. I mean, the movie even begins with an 8-bit version of the Universal logo complete with MIDI music. It makes one feel warm and fuzzy if you're 25, but I doubt anyone younger than 15 would get it. The movie also has Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) in an indie/punk band, dating a 17 yr old Chinese girl, sleeping (literally) with his gay roommate, and espousing the history of Pac-Man. What could be more hipster than that?! (A keytar maybe?)

I suppose a plot is justified, yes? Scott Pilgrim is 22 years old and lives in a studio apartment with his gay roommate (Kieran Culkin), sometimes sleeping beside both him and the roommate's man of the night. He's dating an Asian high school girl (Catholic, complete with uniform) and playing in his indie-punk band, Sex Bob-omb when a new girl, Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an Amazon.com deliverygirl enters his life. Since Scott is something of an asshole, he tries to date both girls at the same time. Oh yeah, he's also got to face off against Ramona's ex-boyfriends who come at him in levels like in video games, and have even named themselves "The League of Exes." That's the crux of it anyway.

I originally wanted to see the movie just to watch Michael Cera get the crap beaten out of him, but was surprised out how much I liked the movie. I shouldn't have been as it's directed by Edgar Wright, who did both Shaun of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. This movie has the same interesting style of those two films, but I'd equate it more with the TV show that Wright did, Spaced. The pop culture references, the interesting editing style... The outlandish plots... It's all here in Scott Pilgrim too. For those of you who liked Zombieland with it's rules appearing on-screen during the film, well, this movie does the same type thing but better. Since the whole movie is filmed like a video game, you have RPG elements like a "Pee Bar" and combo attacks. I won't give away anymore about such things, because it's half of what makes the movie funny.

The movie is consistently funny, though it's not for everyone most likely. Since the film is based on nostalgia and pop culture references, it's probably purely for the late teen to thirties crowd. You know, the ones that were alive when Super Nintendo bit the dust, but young enough that there were always video games consoles. The movie has been called by some as a gamers' movie, and it is in some ways. It's a niche film with possible mass appeal though, like Napoleon Dynamite, but less annoying. It's potentially quotable, it's nerdy (which is hip now), it's based on a series of comics (and that's "in" now), and it's PG-13, which means this could be considered a classic in ten years by those who are 13 now. (Do we really want that though?)

I'm kind of worried that this is one of those comedies that only works after the first time if you're showing it to someone who hasn't seen it yet. That's not knocking the movie I suppose, as most comedies are stale after one viewing, though there are a few exceptions. I very much recommend seeing that one time though, if that's all you see it. It won't be in theaters long, as it's pretty much tanked it's opening weekend. Expect it to have strong DVD/Blu-Ray sales in a few months though, after the word of mouth gets around.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trent's Top 50 albums #35-26

35. Avantasia - The Metal Opera (2001/2002)
34. The Beatles - Let It Be (1970)
33. Muse - Origin of Symmetry (2001)
32. Opeth - Damnation (2003)
31. Queen - A Day At The Races (1976)
30 - Helloween - Keeper of The Seven Keys (1987/1988)
29. Deep Purple - In Rock (1970)
28. Rush - 2112 (1976)
27. Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream (1993)
26. Iron Maiden - Piece of Mind (1983)


Also, I have posted a review of the Iron Maiden concert I attended last week, so take a look.

Friday, July 16, 2010

IN THE THEATER: Inception

Over the next few days, you’re going to see an awful lot of critics refer to Inception as a challenging film. Viewers will walk away from their theaters calling the film complex and nuanced and spouting praise for writer/director Christopher Nolan. That’s if they like it of course. If they don’t then they’re going to call it confusing and boring and maybe even stupid. And walking away from this film, the question on my mind isn’t so much “Which party is right?” as it is “Is any party right?” And my answer?

Maybe a little of both.

Let me explain: Inception is a film that is only as challenging as you allow it to be. If you don’t accept what it is telling you and try to over-think things then you’re going to find yourself muddling through the plot, grappling onto statement after idea after statement in the interest of finding a way to ground yourself as an observer. Alternately, if you choose to let the film and the world wash over you and pay attention as you go, then you’ll very quickly find yourself deposited at the credits and find that you understood all of what went on.

The reason for this is that Inception falls into a category of science fiction that I like to refer to as Immersive Science Fiction. It’s a little sub-genre I have identified that is peopled with writers like William Gibson. Immersive authors write stories where almost all of the world and technical exposition is done in the background. As a style, it does not pander to the audience, it does not attempt to make everything crystal clear at all times, it does not care about telling you how the jetpack on page eighty-three works, or how the bad guys tracked the hero through space at the fifty minute mark.

Early on, Inception gives you the little bits that you absolutely need—-terminology, that the tech exists, how it effects the world—-and then it just lights out for the Territories, supplementing your reality for its own and trusting that you will be interested enough in the characters and the story to ride along. And as it moves it gives you more and more little flashes of how the world works; showing you how it is different and how it is the same and illustrating the rules that dictate this reality without taking much time to implicitly state them. As the film chugs along, the viewer is with the characters all of the way. We latch onto them because, as human beings, they are the most familiar facet of this world, and as they move through the plot we move with them and build up our own understanding of how things work.

I’m making this sound more complex than it is. Basically what you need to know is this: The movie shows you the world without really telling you about it, and then it tricks you into filling in whatever blanks you find the most pressing, and when it’s all over you feel more satisfied as a viewer because you played a role in the endeavor that was not completely passive. It isn’t something that works flawlessly on film, but it works well enough that you can still let yourself slip into the texture of the film and come away with an excellent feel for it. Which is something that can’t even be said about most books, so more power to Nolan for doing it.

So what about the rest of it? The acting and the action and the other stuff that people who aren’t writers actually care about? Well, there’s a reason why I included “spouting praise for writer/director Christopher Nolan” in my bit earlier on. Chris Nolan is, to my mind, one of the strongest and most consistent directors of the 21st century. The man is an unstoppable juggernaut of directing chops. He crushes faces and collects skulls and swims in talent like Scrooge McDuck swims in gold coins. And Inception really doesn’t do much to change that.

The film is beautifully shot. The visuals are crisp and clear and the digital effects-—while not always of the highest caliber—-are always integrated well into the film; serving as intentional representative imagery rather than flash for the sake of flash. There is also some really great stunt work going on, and some gigantic “zero-gravity” sequences that showcase some of the best fight sequences of their type. The film is just staggering to look at.

Things don’t hold up as well on the less technical levels, unfortunately. The plot is strong; presenting itself well and moving at a pace that is at once brisk enough to satisfy the story-driven viewer, but also lets in enough character work to let the actors really do their thing on a more personal level. But once you strip away all of the fancy lucid dreaming stuff, Inception is really just a heist movie. It’s Ocean’s Eleven, minus the jokes and a bunch of characters and inside Cillian Murphy’s head. And while I would go so far as to say that it is a very well made heist movie, it doesn’t ever take that notion anywhere you haven’t seen. The same basic sorts of things that you expect to go wrong in heist movies all go wrong, and they are all resolved in the ways that you would expect. It is all hidden under a very slick veneer, but when it comes down to it, the veneer is a lot thicker in other places.

There’s also some pretty clunky writing spaced throughout the script. Nothing that you’re likely to specifically remember by the time that the credits are over, but there are little conversations or lines that are just ham-handed enough to give you pause. They’re unfortunate little moments strewn across a script that is otherwise nice and tight. The film also just gets things over with early and has the characters constantly be willing to call each other on their bullshit. When Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb starts to show that he’s having a psychological meltdown, Ariadne (Ellen Page) actually does something and confronts him about it. Characters show concern for each other and act upon that, and it is a lovely change of pace from summer films where you often feel like the characters even know that they’re in a movie, where they’re just holding all of their emotional bits in check until the plot train coasts into the station where they’re supposed to unload. It is so remarkably refreshing to see people acting like real people that I can barely even express it.

And the cast is lovely, by the way. There are plenty of people on the cast list who you know are going to be there and be solid, like DiCaprio and Page, and then there are people who just kind of sow up as a matter of course and please you with their mere presence. Performers like Cillian Murphy and Tom Berenger and Michael Caine and Dileep Rao who didn’t get a single frame of attention in the trailers but bring a great deal of talent and presence to the table. Going into the film as a person who remembers performers and their work, the cast is like going out for dinner and a movie and then spending the entire time running into people who you are genuinely happy to see. Pretty much everyone is great pretty much all of the time, and it is hardly surprising at all.

So, in the end, Inception doesn’t really take you anywhere you haven’t been to before, but it gets you there in a car you’ve never been in. And it’s a really nice car. Flaws aside, the film comes highly recommended. Enjoy.

-Sean

Monday, July 12, 2010

I Killed Adolf Hitler review



This was the book that brought me back to comic books. It was one of my first visits to a real comic book shop, and I was dead set against getting something that was completely left of center. My interest in Star Wars was too safe, and I didn’t feel up to the financial requirements of reading The Sandman just yet. So, there it was, on the independents shelf: I Killed Adolf Hitler, featuring anthropomorphic characters, and an author who didn’t have a last name. Just Jason. So thirteen dollars later, I was the owner of forty-eight pages of stand alone comics. After reading, I didn’t have anything negative that I could possibly say, other than, perhaps, that it was too short.

Despite having no names, the characters are phenomenally animated. The hero is an assassin for hire in a world where that profession is perfectly acceptable, and not against the law. In the opening scene, he breaks up with his girlfriend, and quickly appears disillusioned by the line of work he is in. So, in walks a scientist who assigns him a hit, and tells him that he will be traveling through time to kill Adolf Hitler. After this doesn’t work out, he works with his ex to track down Hitler in the modern era. This sets up a poignant love story more than anything else, and quick witted to it’s finale. The tone of the book seems to be inspired greatly by the films of Woody Allen. The dialogue is sharp, and the action takes a back seat to the character development.

Jason is yet another great writer who also draws his own books. His art style is very simple, colors minimalistic. There isn’t anything that takes the attention away from the tale being told, but it’s not offensive to the eye either. The sci-fi element of time travel is simply handled as well, with a giant metal bubble being the only time travel device necessary. However, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t plot important through to the ending. As a matter a fact, this plot device provides the sweet ending that makes me constantly recommend this book to readers new to the medium.

Despite a simplistic cartoon appearance, don’t go into this book expecting a young readers experience. The first scene alone depicts the hero’s girlfriend graphically describing masturbation while he shoots and kills someone from her window. This isn’t the only moment of graphic violence either, as there are several moments where another assassin is performing a hit while the hero talks to other characters. This is more a warning than anything else, as it doesn’t take the spotlight away from the fantastic character development and storytelling.

This was my first experience with independent comics. My first graphic novel from the Norwegian artist and writer Jason. This was my indoctrination into the fan base associated with comics, though I’m not one of “those” comic book fans. Give this one a try, and I’m certain you will come back for more shortly after.

4/5

So, my schedule has been thwarted by work, finances, and school over the past two weeks. I'll be playing catch up with weekly comics at the end of the week, and I'm currently working on reviews of We3 by Grant Morrison and Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. I've also been invited to write reviews for , where I will be crossposting my reviews to. I'm still a contributor to The Galactic Outpost as well. Stay tuned, folks.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Trent's Top 50 albums #50-46

I've started my list of my top 50 favorite albums on my site, complete with little reasons why and a list of my 3 favorite tracks from every album. Here's just the list so far, in case you can't be bothered to know WHY I consider these favorites. Also note, these are favorite albums, as in the ones I listen to most, not what I know are the best ones. 'Best' lists are, in my opinion, pretty rigid and boring.

#50. Images and Words - Dream Theater (1992)
#49. The Grand Illusion - Styx (1977)
#48. Destiny - Stratovarius (1998)
#47. Argus - Wishbone Ash (1972)
#46. Van Halen II - Van Halen (1979)
#45. The Nylon Curtain - Billy Joel (1982)
#44. Holy Diver - Dio (1983)
#43. Peace Sells... But Who's Buying - Megadeth (1986)
#42. Imaginations From The Other Side - Blind Guardian (1995)
#41. The Turn of A Friendly Card - The Alan Parsons Project (1980)
#40. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Elton John (1973)
#39. Heaven and Hell - Black Sabbath (1980)
#38. Somewhere Out In Space - Gamma Ray (1997)
#37. Jailbreak - Thin Lizzy (1976)
#36. Van Halen - Van Halen (1978)

The fully detailed list can be found here.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Top 50 lists coming soon!

Hello all, I promised an outline of how things will be done on my personal blog, and well… here it is. Hopefully this will make the blog easier to navigate, and the updates more constant. (I will try to make both this blog and my personal one look cooler also.) It’s all about keeping me motivated, after all. Well, maybe not, but I like to think so.

At any rate, here’s the plan for the next few months.

July will focus on my top 50 favorite rock/metal albums of all time. I’m really excited to finally compile this list, which I’ve been thinking of doing for the past 2 or 3 years. Obviously my musical tastes have expanded since then. Why rock albums? That’s what I listen to. In reality therefore, it’s my 50 favorite OVERALL albums, but if I didn’t specify the genre, it just wouldn’t seem fair to, say Gustav Holst or Miles Davis now would it?

August and September will be dedicated towards compiling my 50 favorite films. I’ll be attempting to post one a day at that point, with reasons why it’s one of my favorites. After those 50 days we have like 10 left, and I’m still kind of thinking about what to do there… Possibly I’ll work in some leg-room so that I can have ten days during those two months where I don’t have to post.

Now, in regards to the Outpost Hub, and how that figures in with these specials… I’ll probably post an update every ten installments on there, and it will include just the list. There won’t be any comments from me on them. I’ll leave those to my personal blog, as it’s easy to access it from the Hub.

Along with these special top 50 lists, I’ll still be posting book/film/album/concert reviews, special comments on media topics, links to upcoming short stories that I do, etc. So all in all, this is gonna be one busy blog in the coming months. I’m very much looking forward to this, so stay tuned. I hope you like it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Working Through the Stack, Part 2

I love the 1981 Peter Hyams film Outland. It’s one of those quiet, serious science fiction films from the ‘80s that seems nearly perfect when you’re watching it, but is sort of hard to encapsulate properly when describing it. So, in lieu of a proper write-up, I’m going to present you with an equation I cooked up on GraphJam.com to better explain the film:

b242cd46-f183-4618-bcac-df0f61127142

Now armed with this information, I feel that those of you unlucky enough to have not seen this film should be tempted to seek it out. Because if the pure, unbridled power of Movie Mathematics can’t convince you, nothing can.

-Sean

(NOTE: Working Through the Stack is a multi-part project in which I have dedicate myself to exploring the lost and forgotten corners of my DVD collection. More information may be found here.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Jurassic Park: Memories 17 Years In The Making

I've been going through some kind of crazy 1/3-life crisis lately. It's lasted about a year now, and there's really no end in sight. I turn 25 tomorrow. Halfway to 50, when my body will really start to shut down, if my parents are any indication. As this crisis goes through, I tend to look back a lot, mostly in shock. Fifteen years since Toy Story?! Thirteen years since I saw the original Star Wars trilogy re-released in theaters?! Seventeen years since I saw my first PG-13 movie in theaters?!

Yes folks, Jurassic Park is seventeen years old now. Can you believe it? I was 8 when I saw the movie, having just had my birthday. I remember looking so much to seeing this movie that I knew next to nothing about. I was just really into dinosaurs at the time. My dad had read the book earlier that year. He was reading it while the family went down to South Carolina to see my grandma, and I would ask him every few minutes what was happening in the book, to his annoyance. I got some TOPPS Jurassic Park trading cards that summer, and a cassette tape full of songs just about dinosaurs. At first my parents said I couldn't see the movie. I was only 8, and at that time, my parents wouldn't even let me watch Ninja Turtles on Saturday mornings. I was pretty sheltered. Yet after my dad saw the movie, he decided that I could see it for my birthday. I can remember that theater experience to this day.

I had never seen such a reaction to a movie. People jumped, some screamed, and a lot of kids (including me) were hiding their eyes in their parents arm a lot of the time. The part that always scared me most was oddly supposed to be comic relief. The Dilophosaurus still kinda freaks me out a little to this day... and the real dinosaur didn't even have what freaks me out about it... Those neck frills and the oil-like poison. Still, those dinosaurs looked damned real, and the movie is still an adrenaline rush.

Now, I've heard a lot of comments in the last few years about Jurassic Park being a lesser film. What is it with this decade and people loving to trash everything that is deemed "nostalgic"? Sure, the movie didn't age well in some respects. "Oh wow! It's an interactive CD-ROM!" The dress style in the movies is also dated to the early 90s. I don't care. It was made in the early 90s and is set there. Case closed. (Although no amount of critical thinking can make me approve of the goofy sound when Nedry slips and falls down the flash-flooded embankment.)

Looking back, I don't think I ever saw the trailer for the movie. I have a feeling that if I did, I would have been kind of disappointed. If you haven't seen it, look here.



It basically is the movie in 3 minutes! And it looks horrible! If you noticed, they only show the animatronic dino shots, and not the CGI ones. That's a good choice, but the trailer gets the feel of the movie all wrong. I guess the movie must have gone all on hype, because I can't see the trailer getting people drawn in. Now the poster on the other hand... come on... it's just classic.



Let me speak of the special effects for a minute. I'm not amazed by CGI a lot these days, but Jurassic Park was one of the first films to use it extensively, and to this 8 year old, those dinosaurs were real. (So real that I kept looking down over the side of my bunk bed that night thinking the dilophosaurus was down there.) Even just viewing it again a few days ago those dinos look real in most shots. The only times where I can very easily tell the CGI are some shots of the kitchen Velociraptors, and the Gallimimus flock. The T-Rex always looks real, and especially in what is one of my favorite scenes. Ellie and Muldoon have found Malcolm and are now searching for Grant and the kids. All of a sudden the Rex bursts from the woods and chases the Jeep they are in. I don't think the T-Rex was as frightening in the other two films. The attack on the Jeep is nerve-wracking to me still. It may have been a robot, but the plexi-glass top of the jeep all of a sudden coming down on those kids... it's pretty chilling. (And let's not forget the humorous but gruesome death of Genaro either. Yet another classic.)

Now, when I was about 14, I finally read the book, and was very surprised at how different it was to the movie. Whole sequences with the dinosaurs were taken out, such as the aviary, the river boat sequence, hiding behind the waterfall from the T-rex... (all of which would appear in some form or another in the 2 lesser sequels) Heck, even the characters were different, especially John Hammond! In the book, John Hammond is more of an exploiter. He can get cranky too. He's not Walt Disney with a dash of Santa Claus like he is in the movie. The movie's main low point, according to critics, was the lack of character development, and all I have to say to that is it was a hell of a lot better than the book's. Now listen up folks, for I have a theory. Read a good book and then see the movie, and you will always be at least slightly disappointed. See a good movie, then read the book, and most likely you will still enjoy the movie, and you'll have enjoyed the book as well. This is Trent's theory of post-literary adaptation. Take of it what you will.

In my point of view, the movie holds up fantastically well. It's still suspenseful, the effects are amazing to this day, the music is some of John Williams' best, and it's miles better than either of the sequels. I seriously recommend that if you have not seen the movie in a while, to sit down, "turn the light off!", and put on the surround sound ("Don't get cheap on me"), and "Hold on to your butts!"